This U of T-designed lab on wheels roams the city, gathering data on air pollution

A vehicle with flashy chrome finishes and high-tech, roof-mounted scanners is getting a lot of admiring looks as it rolls around Toronto.

Meet UrbanScanner, a mobile testing laboratory on wheels developed by researchers in the University of Toronto Faculty of Applied Science & Engineering. Built and driven by researchers in the Transportation and Air Quality group led by Marianne Hatzopoulou, an associate professor in the department of civil and mineral engineering and Canada Research Chair in transportation and air quality, the vehicle takes detailed measurements of air pollution as it varies over space and time.

Hatzopoulou and her team, including research associate Arman Ganji and master’s candidate Keni Mallinen, have partnered with Scentroid, a Toronto-based company developing sensor-based systems for urban air pollution monitoring, to create UrbanScanner.

The vehicle includes a 360-degree visual camera, a lidar (light detection and ranging) system, a GPS transponder and an ultrasonic anemometer, as well as sensors for temperature, relative humidity, particulate matter and certain gas-phase pollutants.

A platform on the roof of the vehicle streams data to a cloud server, with air pollution measured every second and paired with the camera and lidar images. The ability to collect detailed location information enables air pollution data to be overlaid on city maps.